The Circus Ship

by Chris Van Dusen (Author) Chris Van Dusen (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade
With stunning artwork and a rhyming text, the illustrator of the Mercy Watson books tells a tale of human-animal connection full of humor and heart.

When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the poor animals are left on their own to swim the chilly waters. Staggering onto a nearby island, they soon win over the wary townspeople with their kind, courageous ways. So well do the critters blend in that when the greedy circus owner returns to claim them, villagers of all species conspire to outsmart the bloated blowhard. With buoyant rhymes and brilliantly caricatured illustrations evoking the early nineteenth century, Chris Van Dusen presents a hugely entertaining tale about the bonds of community -- and a rare hidden-pictures spread for eagle-eyed readers of all ages.

Kirkus Review - Children

Starred Review
The verse is sprightly, but the pictures are the true stunners. Bright, lampooning gouaches (familiar from the Mercy Watson series) and dizzying perspective perfectly suit this picaresque tale...Children will pore over panoramic spreads that invite them to find each of the 15 animals and celebrate a denouement that serves up Mr. Paine's just desserts. Splendid!

School Library Journal

PreS-Gr 1  After their steamship en route to Boston is wrecked in a storm, a troupe of circus animals escapes bad treatment and disaster, finding its way to an island off the coast of Maine. The 1800s residents are surprised to find zebras eating their gardens and alligators lounging on woodpiles. Sympathies change when a tiger saves a toddler from a blazing shed. When a messenger announces that the cruel circus owner is returning to claim his menagerie, the citizens assist the animals in disguises and camouflage that confound him, leaving the friends to a peaceful coexistence. Van Dusen's rhymed text keeps a rollicking beat. His illustrations burst with color and energy and utilize perspective and texture to add drama and humor. Period details create a counterpoint with elements like a gorilla in a lifeboat. The spread of the animals in "hiding" is pure genius. The book honors the real circus animals that inspired this story. - Gay Lynn Van Vleck, Henrico County Library, Glen Allen, VA

Copyright 2009 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission

Publishers Weekly

Mr. Paine, the greedy, mustachioed manager of a 19th-century circus, browbeats his ship's captain into sailing onward on a foggy night: "Don't stop! Keep going!/ I've got a show to do!/ Just get me down to Boston town/ tomorrow, sir, by two!" The ship crashes and sinks, but the animals swim to a small Maine island, where they confound the villagers until the tiger saves a girl from a fire. After that, the islanders help hide the animals when Mr. Paine returns for them. Van Dusen's (the Mercy Watson books) verse is tightly constructed, and his cartoonlike spreads are polished, literally and figuratively: the exaggerated chins and noses of the humans gleam, and sunsets and firelight illuminate the scenes dramatically. Other than Mr. Paine, readers don't get too close to any of the characters; the focus is on the action. The fantasy of African wildlife on a quiet Maine island will absorb a read-aloud audience, and a clever hide-and-seek page lets readers hunt for the animals, which are concealed from Mr. Paine. A final page supplies the story's (much sadder) historical source. Ages 4--8. (Sept.)

Copyright 2015 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Chris Van Dusen
Chris Van Dusen is the illustrator of the Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo. He wrote and illustrated Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee, A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, and If I Built a Car. He lives in Maine.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Candlewick Press (MA)
Publication date
September 20, 2009
BISAC categories
JUV019000 - Juvenile Fiction | Humorous Stories
JUV016140 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | United States - 19th Century
JUV001010 - Juvenile Fiction | Action & Adventure | Survival Stories
Library of Congress categories
Human-animal relationships
Stories in rhyme
Survival after airplane accidents, shipwrecks
Circus animals
Shipwreck survival
Texas 2x2 Reading List
Recommended 2010 - 2010
Young Hoosier Book Award
Nominee 2012 - 2012
Beehive Awards
Nominee 2011 - 2011
Lupine Award
Winner 2009 - 2009
North Carolina Children's Book Award
Nominee 2011 - 2011
Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Award
Nominee 2012 - 2012
Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award
Winner 2011 - 2012
Ladybug Picture Book Award
Nominee 2010 - 2010
Golden Sower Award
Nominee 2012 - 2012

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